JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Kopassus killings test nation's resolve

Brazen crime: Soldiers from Indonesia's elite special force enter the courtroom to attend their trial at the local military court in Yogyakarta.

Brazen crime: Soldiers from Indonesia's elite special force enter the courtroom to attend their trial at the local military court in Yogyakarta. Photo: AP

As an indictment for multiple, premeditated murder was read out to three members of Indonesia's special forces unit on Thursday, the military court and its surrounds crackled with the significance of the case.

Ucok Tigor Simbolon, Sugeng Sumaryanto and Kodik, all clad in the distinctive red berets of the infamous Kopassus, are charged with the most brazen of crimes.

At about midnight on March 23 this year, they and nine accomplices from their unit (who are facing lesser charges), dressed in masks and black commando gear and armed with military-issue AK-47 rifles, forced their way into the Sleman ''Cebongan'' Prison near Yogyakarta.

One minded the car and others destroyed the CCTV footage and video equipment, while the others forced a guard at gunpoint to lead them to four prisoners in cell A5.

The 12 soldiers were hunting for four men, including a police officer, who were on remand for the murder of a sergeant from their unit in a nightclub fight four days earlier.

''Once in the cell, defendant one, Simbolon, asked: 'Where is Diki [Hendrik Benyamin Sahetapy Angel]?' … A prisoner pointed at Diki, who stared at Simbolon and put his hands up. Simbolon immediately shot him,'' the indictment said.

''Then Simbolon saw another thug, Johanes Juan Masbait, and shot him, then shot another one, Adrianus Chandra Galaja. After the third gangster, his weapon stuck. Defendant two helped Simbolon fix it. Simbolon then went back and found the last gangster, Gamaliel Yermiyanto Rohiriwu.''

The four died with gunshot wounds to the heart, lungs and head. It was all over in 15 minutes.

During the planning, Simbolon had told the others they were doing it ''for the sake of defending our corps' dignity and unity''.

In legal terms, this case is clear. The soldiers face maximum sentences of death after admitting to planning and executing the attack. But its broader significance has only grown in the three months since the attack.

Kopassus was tasked by former dictator Suharto with carrying out Indonesia's dirty wars against insurgents in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua, but even after his fall, the unit has enjoyed a culture of impunity for its crimes. Between 1999 and 2005, the Australian military suspended joint training exercises.

But since 1998, Indonesia has moved beyond military control. The case of the Kopassus 12 - how it is prosecuted and the punishment the suspects receive - has become a test case for the standing of the military in this new Indonesia.

The nation's official human rights guardian, Komnas HAM, declared the attack a human rights violation and urged a wider hunt for others involved. But the court on Thursday was surrounded by hundreds of members of paramilitary groups, chanting ''Dismiss Komnas HAM, the foreign agent'' and their support for the accused.

Indonesia's former secret intelligence leader, Hendropriyono, said outside the court: ''I think it is not premeditated murder, it's spontaneously carried out. I think the prosecutors carelessly wrote the indictment.''

So intense is the atmosphere that Basuki Haryono from Indonesia's witness protection agency was at the court to monitor it. The 42 witnesses - prisoners and guards - have been offered protection and 10 want to testify via video link.

Has Indonesia's culture of impunity ended? The circus at the courthouse suggests not quite yet.

Featured advertisers

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo